Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Abby Córdova
This dissertation examines the impact of public policies designed to prevent, address, and punish violence against women (VAW) on citizens’ political attitudes as well as news coverage in Brazil. Despite being politically important, these topics are understudied, particularly in the context of Latin America. In the dissertation, I investigate the following research questions: 1) How does government attention to gender-based violence shape news media coverage of violence against women? 2) How do policies on violence against women shape intimate partner violence survivors’ political attitudes? 3) How do encounters with the police shape survivors’ political opinions and bystander intervention attitudes? By investigating these questions, my dissertation makes important empirical and theoretical contributions to literatures on violence against women, Latin American politics, public policy, and public opinion.
My theoretical argument assumes that political elites are instrumental in shaping public opinion on issues related to gender-based violence, just as they are on most of political issues. Political attention and policies on VAW also send important signals to the news media about the issue of violence against women, prompting journalists to report on relevant stories. Relying on literature on agenda-setting in the news media, I argue that political elites dictate much of the topics covered by news reporting. I theorize that the continuous process of improving state action on VAW— due to persistent feminist activism and civil society’s pressures—increases news media attention to these stories. Further, as the news media increasingly report on political elites’ attention to VAW, both the amount and the content of reporting would reflect these trends.
I argue that when the state adopts legislation to address gender-based violence, it also signals to citizens that responding to violence against women is the government’s responsibility, thereby helping to connect their attitudes on this issue to their political evaluations. Salient state actions on violence against women, then, raise the expectations of survivors of gender-based violence, who rely on public institutions for justice and for their recovery from trauma. Once these policies become known, survivors expect to have access to the public support services associated with the laws. The problem, however, is that implementation hardly goes hand in hand with the adoption of legislation, and as consequence, many survivors of intimate partner violence would lack access to these life-saving resources. Thus, the lack of access to services established by salient legislation, should engender negative evaluations of relevant political institutions among survivors.
Access to public support services is not the end of the story. Once intimate partner violence survivors have access to support services for victims, they rely on the messages they received from service providers to form opinions about the effectiveness of state action on VAW. I argue that because of the emotional damage caused by VAW victimization, survivors need emotional support from service providers, and especially from the police—as the police tend to be survivors’ first contact with support services. If they are not treated fairly by service providers—procedural fairness—they might conclude that the laws are not effective in protecting women. Consequently, they might be less likely to report intentions to intervene by calling the police if they witness domestic violence.
To explore these topics, my research takes a mixed-method approach, integrating both quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative component of my research involves the analysis of an extensive dataset that I have collected on news media coverage of VAW in Brazil and public opinion surveys. To analyze the effect of political attention to VAW on news reporting, I use several methods. Using my original dataset, I examine the effect of congressional bill introduction addressing VAW as well as VAW legislation on news coverage using time series analysis. I then take a text-as-data approach using machine learning topic modeling to conduct content analysis of news articles on VAW over time. To analyze the effect of policies on VAW on survivors’ political attitudes, I rely on public opinion surveys. I use multilevel analysis to examine how macro-level factors influence individual-level survey responses. Finally, I have conducted dozens of in-depth interviews with domestic violence survivors and service providers in Brazil. This qualitative component of my dissertation provides rich insight, meaning and explanation of the quantitative analysis.
My dissertation findings shed light on the political consequences of public policy on VAW. In my chapter on the news media, I find that when governments engage in a process of improving state action on violence against women through the enactment of bills, the news media respond by covering more stories on the topic. I also find that a pioneer legislation can shape news media reporting on VAW over time. My analysis demonstrates that the anniversary of a pioneer legislation on VAW opens a window of opportunity for the news media to cover stories on VAW. As such, political attention as well as salient, concrete state action on VAW can raise awareness about the persistent problem of gender-based violence among the public through the news media. Ultimately, sustained media attention can promote support for policies designed to ameliorate women’s standing in society.
In my chapters on the political attitudes of domestic violence survivors, I find that survivors of intimate partner violence who did not have access to public services for victims, downgrade their evaluations of the central government. These victims are also less likely to think that the state aids victims against their aggressors. I also find that procedural fairness in police service delivery matters for the political attitudes of intimate partner violence survivors. Survivors whose subjective evaluations of police customer service are less than excellent, are more skeptical of the effectiveness of VAW laws in protecting women from violence compared to non-victims. I argue that these results carry important policy implications with them. State action on violence against women raises expectations of greater policy implementation among survivors that, if left unmet, can produce a backlash of negative political judgments. Legislation on violence against women must go hand in hand with budget allocations to ensure even implementation of resources of prevention and response to gender-based violence across the national territory. However, access to public support services for victims is not enough. Once survivors reach these services, they are in great need of emotional support, making fair treatment utterly important. If survivors do not receive fair treatment from the police—the main implementers of VAW policies—they are more likely to hold negative evaluations of relevant political institutions.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women (OPSVAW), University of Kentucky. Ashley T. Judd Distinguished Graduate Student Fellowship (2018-2019)
American Political Science Association. Minority Fellowship. Fall 2017
Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies Program, University of Kentucky. Summer 2019
Ken and Mary Sue Coleman Awards, Political Science Department, University of Kentucky. Summer of 2018 and 2019
Rabello Kras, Helen, "THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF STATE ACTION ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: HOW VICTIMS AND NON-VICTIMS FORM OPINIONS ABOUT GOVERNMENT" (2021). Theses and Dissertations--Political Science. 36.